Luke 1:46

    And Mary said,
    My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
    for he has looked with favour
    on the lowliness of his servant.

Mary's song of joy rings out through the ages of history. She is filled with delight at the news that she has been so blessed by God, to be chosen as the mother to whom the Son of God will soon be born.

So we, too, are filled with joy and anticipation as the weeks before Christmas go by, the festivities go on, and the preparations for Christmas are made.

Well, aren't we?

A few years ago, a close family friend died just the week before Christmas, after a long illness. I found myself thinking about how much his family's Christmas that year and all future years would be affected by his death at that particular time. After all, Christmas is always supposed to be a joyful time, a family time, a time of rejoicing, of gift giving, and having fun. A time for the celebration of life and hope.

Most of us have somehow grown up with the distinct feeling that there is no place for sadness in this Christian festival, and that we are somehow missing something vital if we are not able to manufacture that spirit of joyfulness and "Christmas spirit" that we think should predominate. For many people, Christmas is frequently a sad disappointment, because unrealistic expectations we have built up for ourselves are not met.

How far we have travelled from the first Christmas! For Mary, even in the birth of this child, this Son of God, there was sadness, for over the manger stood the shadow of a cross. Mixed with her expression of joy at his birth is her knowledge that this child would save his people from their sins. I think she knew even then, that his life would not be easy, that there was suffering ahead. I suspect that a dark sense of foreboding may have accompanied the happiness she experienced at his birth.

The Christmas story is the story of God entering fully into the human condition, out of love. It was never all happiness. Human suffering and grief have been part of it all since the beginning. The joy that is Christmas is not all "cheery". Rather, it is a joy that sustains us through every human circumstance. It is the joy of knowing Jesus as a friend who always stands with us, as one of us. For Christians, because of Christmas and because of the cross, there is no sadness or suffering that is not known or understood by the God who loved us so much that he gave his only Son to suffer with us and then to die for us.

Prayer: Eternal God, we thank you for the birth of your Son Jesus. Fill us this day with the knowledge that he walks with each one of us, as a Friend and as a Saviour. May we be sustained and lifted up by the knowledge that we are never alone. When we cannot be filled with the happiness and joy that is expected at Christmas, may we find comfort in knowing that we are understood and cherished beyond measure. Amen.

About the author:

Jean Bryden
Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada

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